Spring practice begins next week so we will breakdown each position group as we gear up for football season. Note: We will not guess on what impact freshmen who are not on campus yet will have on the team.
Position Coach: Brian Jean-Mary (3rd season)
Key Loss: Khalid McGee (Team Leading 111 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks in 2018), Keirston Johnson, Josh Black
Key Returnees: Nico Sawtelle, Dwayne Boyles, Andre Polk Jr., Tony Grier.
Simply put, USF has a very intriguing linebacker situation heading into the spring where the only question is: Who will step up in a still relatively young unit?
With Second-Team All-AAC LB Khalid McGee and late-blooming senior Josh Black now gone along with Greg Reaves moving back to defensive end, the resident veteran of this year’s group is grad senior Nico Sawtelle...who can hopefully stay healthy.
Tallying 54 tackles and two interceptions in his first season as a starter in 2017, the Jensen Beach native did a nice job filling the void left behind by Auggie Sanchez last fall until a shoulder/neck injury sidelined him for the final seven games of the season. The staff is taking precaution with the senior this spring.
Strong: LB Nico Sawtelle had an operation to get things cleared up. Should be ready by fall camp. #USF— Nathan Bond (@BullsNathanSBN) February 6, 2019
A quick @USFFootball injury update as spring practice nears: MLB Nico Sawtelle (shoulder) will wear no-contact jersey: WR Terrence Horne (ACL) has started running, but won’t practice; QB Blake Barnett (shoulder, ankle) very much good to go— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) March 13, 2019
Sawtelle’s extended absence places emphasis on younger guys in the group needing to take the next step, particularly sophomore Dwayne Boyles. The Miami Central product got plenty of valuable reps by playing in 12 games on the weakside as a true freshman in 2018, racking up 20 tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in the process.
Another returnee in need of a breakout on the field is junior Andre Polk, one of very few remaining signees from the 2016 recruiting class. Polk has only registered five tackles in three games since arriving to Tampa.
Other players who could be rotated in and out includes sophomore Tony Grier, who mostly starred on special teams last season, Randal Copeland, who redshirted last season and sophomore walk-ons Andrew Mims and AJ Franco.
For added depth, redshirt freshman Brian Norris has been moved from running back to linebacker and like with McGee last year, there’s always the potential for a safety to move down in the box to play in a hybrid position.